Saturday, September 28, 2019

Kyle Abbott signs extension with Hampshire

Kyle Abbot has signed a three-year extension with County side Hampshire, which has effectively ended any hopes of a return to international cricket. Abbott, who a few days ago took 17 wickets in a First Class cricket game, stated he had no regrets about his choice to take a Kolpak contract in 2017. Abbot, who has averaged 60 wickets a season in his three seasons with Hampshire is now tied to the club through to the 2021 season.

Abbot: "I am delighted to have signed a new three-year contract with Hampshire. We have a great coaching staff and bunch of players all striving to achieve success for the club, and I look forward to contributing to winning trophies in the coming years."

With the threat of Brexit, there probably was an accent for players to make immediate decisions. The England Cricket Board said in an email that should England leave the European Union without a deal by the end of 2019, new Kolpak applications would become void , but they would honour all existing Kolpak contracts up until 2020. What happens after 2020? We do not know. Neither Abbott, nor Hampshire stated whether the final two years of his contract would be Kolpak'ed in, or if he would be an overseas player.

Big Pressure on Little Temba

First things first, South African cricket is going through something of a metamorphosis. Hashim Amla's retirement from the game as well as Dale Steyn's retirement from Test cricket has lost South Africa about 220 Tests worth of experience. It would have been a lot to expect the absolute best version of the South African cricket team to go to India, who have only lost one home Test, not series, Test, in 7 years and win. To expect a team undergoing change to compete with serious hopes of winning is probably a little much. But, we are South Africans. Expecting too much is what we do. Always has been.

On that note, it's time to speak about the elephant in the batting room. Not Quinton de Kock wasting away at 7, only coming in when the game is gone. No, the other elephant in the room. In case you missed it, Temba Bavuma has been named the team's vice captain, and with Faf du Plessis a not young 35-years old, it does stand to reason that Bavuma is the next in line to hold the most important seat in South African sports. Yes, the Springboks are more popular, but no one in the Bok team has as much sway over the result of a game as the captain of the cricket team. One of the most basic tenets of being the captain of a cricket team is that your own place in the team needs to be almost beyond reproach. The Proteas of course fly in the face of this logic, and we do it often. Graeme Smith was a wily veteran all of eight Tests into his career when he was made captain. Faf du Plessis was actually dropped the Test before he took over as captain for an injured AB de Villiers. We take big risks with our captains, and for the most part, it seems to not end in tragic failure. That said though, Graeme Smith had more tons than Bavuma has now when he was made captain. Faf du Plessis had a fourth innings hundred and a legendary ton on debut in Adelaide on his ledger when he started his career as captain. Bavuma has a solitary ton, on what may have been the most docile track ever produced in Newlands. At no stage in his career has Bavuma averaged more than 40, and his highest average for a calendar year is 42. Also, for a man who is renowned as something of a man for the tough situations, he averages 24 in the second innings of a game. That is not particularly impressive. In fact, it is like... not good, as the millenials would say.

Given the fact that one (or both) of Zubayr Hamza and Theunis de Bruyn will be in the match day, trying desperately to lock up their positions in the side, it is imperative that the senior players step up and not give them the added pressure of trying to save/win the game for the Proteas.

At 29 years of age, Bavuma should be at the peak of his powers, and South Africa are going to need him to step up his game heading into the future in general, but this tour specifically. How wonderful it would be for him to formally announce himself as a major player in the batting world with a huge series vs India. If he doesn't, the handover is going to be awkward, to borrow another millenial term.

Friday, September 27, 2019

How does South Africa unseat King Kohli?

Since the day Martin Crowe nicknamed the the quartet of Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, Joe Root and Virat Kohli the "Fab Four", these four gentlemen have basically dominated the landscape of cricket to rarely before seen levels. Steve Smith has been fantastic in Test cricket, and could arguably be called the Best Since Bradman. Virat Kohli though, he's been incredible in all three formats of the game. He is the only member of the recently invented 40-50-60 club. That is, an average exceeding 40 in one format, 50 in another format, and 60 in another format. He isn't just a member of the club, he's the founding member and to date the only member. 

His Test numbers are pretty impressive. In 79 Tests, he has scored 6749 runs at an average of 53. If you think that is impressive, his stats as captain are otherworldly. In 48 Tests, he has scored 18 centuries and over 4600 runs at an average of 61. The man is good. He's scored over 1000 Test runs in 3 consecutive years, hasn't had a year averaging less than 50 in a calendar year since 2015. In other words, in any other era, he'd be a solid contender for the best Test batsman of the era. India is the best Test team in the world. They've been the best team in the world for four years, and Kohli has been their crown jewel. Sure, Cheteshwar Pujara has done an impressive imitation of Rahul Dravid, and Murali Vijay has been a capable opener. But Virat Kohli is the head of the snake, and as Dale Steyn once said about Steve Smith, if you kill the head the body will die. South Africa has had reasonable success vs Kohli in India. In four Tests, he averages 33.33. Unfortunately, this appears less evidence of a supposed weakness, and more an indictment of how unplayable those pitches are. So we had to look a little bit more in-depth to see if we could identify any weaknesses. 

When Virat Kohli first went to England he could not play the fifth stump line. Jimmy Anderson had him, as the English say, on toast the entire time he was there. But this has two issues; 
1 - That was in England
2 - He resolved that the next time he was in England

So how do you get Kohli out? Well, to start with, Nathan Lyon has had more success against Kohli than anyone in world cricket, with nine dismissals. This interesting stat might put Dane Piedt into play. He isn't quite Nathan Lyon, but he is a capable off-spinner and South Africa will likely go into the game with a second spinner. Indeed Kohli averages 23 in India vs Lyon, so he seems quite shakey against quality off-spin. Moreover, in the recent past, all but one of his last 10 dismissals vs pace have come either caught behind or in the slips/gully region. This, combined with the fact that he has only 2 LBW/bowled dismissals in the last 12 Tests indicates that the plan should be to get Piedt on early if he plays, and also to bowl a fuller length, outside off stump and get him driving. This is admittedly a pretty brave plan, as it can go badly, but he seemingly never gets out pulling or playing the straight ball nowadays. The data reflects that even the best and most foolproof plan against Kohli is likely to fail, given how great he is. But he is only human, so he is due a truly bad series at some point, and why not against South Africa? 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

We are keeping Quinton down

Quinton de Kock is good at cricket. Everyone who plays cricket at an international level is good at cricket, but even in that hallowed territory, one can see that Quinton de Kock is exceptionally good at cricket. He boasts no obvious weakness, and there are very few good balls which he can't turn into boundary balls. He also happens to be, both on form and reputation, South Africa's best batsman, especially now that the great Hashim Amla has retired. This presents a quandary of sorts, because while de Kock's prodigious ability to take a game away from the opposition batting at 7 is not in question, the reality is more often than not, he has had to come in and repair some very creaky holes in the ship.

In the history of cricket, only one team has ever had their best batsman keep wicket. Andy Flower, the Zimabwean great, was the only man who managed this feat of endurance and focus. You could arguably place AB de Villiers on this shortlist, but he only kept for 23 Tests and his career was more than four times as long. He was a stop gap wicket-keeper. A great stop gap, but a stop gap nonetheless. The only other side which faced a similar conundrum was Sri Lanka with the great Kumar Sangakkara and they dropped the gloves from him permanently with exceptional results. No one has a higher average as a specialist batsman than Sangakkara, with the exception of Donald Bradman. Much like Kumar, de Kock's average as a wicket-keeper/batsman is hovering around 40. It would be arrogant to even hope that his average would float anywhere near Sangakkara's, but I imagine it would be easier for him to bat higher if he did not have the added weight of having to keep wicket. That alone would increase the potential he has to impact a game, because there would be more wickets left over, and thus more resources for him.

The only reason anyone would not want de Kock batting higher, is fear. Fear that he would lose his explosiveness. But the reality is Quinton de Kock is now a senior member of the team, and as such, it's time for him to take his place in the big boys club.

Two spin(ners) or not two spinners

When South Africa toured India in 2015, something peculiar happened. It wasn't that we lost 3-0, having gone over a decade undefeated in overseas tours. That was sad, but all good things come to an end. What I am referring to is the fact that we went into the majority of a series with two spinners. This was not just rare, it literally has never happened before. Not even in our previous tours to India.

This may seem instinctively counter-intuitive, but South Africa has had the good fortune of having elite subcontinental fast bowlers in the tank . Shaun Pollock averaged a respectable 27 in India, and 22 in Pakistan. Allan Donald averaged 16 in India, and of course, Dale Steyn's average of 21 in the subcontinent is legendary. Even an accessory talent like Morne Morkel had a respectable enough average of 32 in India. When your guns are that big, there is simply no need to have a second spinner. Especially when your first spinner is Nicky Boje or Paul Harris. Honest, hard working spinners. But when your front line spinners are basically about as potent as the opposition's back up spinner, it serves to reason that your back spinner will probably not be a match-winner. 

Historically, this high pace battery has worked well for South Africa. In the 21st century, South Africa have won one Test series and drawn two others out of five in India. Of the two series they drew, they were leading the series heading into the final Test in both. 

Clearly, the three pace bowler line up and one spinner line up has worked extremely well for the Proteas in India. There are however extenuating circumstances. For one, pitches in India are no longer what they were. This is less a concern than a statement of fact. Where India was once a batting paradise for the technically proficient, it became a battle of survival the last time South Africa was there. Dean Elgar had four wickets before lunch of the first Test, which is as big a sign of a rank turner as is humanly possible. These are the conditions under which  the Proteas will likely play the upcoming India series. We already know Keshav Maharaj is legit business. He took wickets for fun in the last year's series vs Sri Lanka. The question is whether the second spinner, likely Dane Piedt has the wares to bowl well enough to warrant overs as the second spinner.

The other concern is generally, when a team plays two spinners, one of them is generally good enough to bast at 8, and thus lengthen the batting line up. Take India for example, both Jadeja and Ashwin could probably bat 6 at an absolute push. In the Protea line-up, Vernon  Phlander may potentially be a Test seven in a loaded batting line-up, but none of the spinners are capable of batting any higher than nine. 

With all this in mind, would I play two spinners? Yes, but only because I don't think conditions will require more than a second pace bowler.. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Proteas name the new interim batting coach

Cricket South Africa has named Amol Muzumdar as the interim batting coach for the upcoming Test series vs India. Muzumdar, who was never capped at international level, does boast an impressive first class record with over 11 000 runs at an average of around 48.

"He has moved on to become one of the top coaches in India, holding high performance coaching certificates from the BCCI, Cricket South Africa, as well as the UK through both Lancashire and Yorkshire", CSA said in a press release.

He has previously been the batting coach of the Rajasthan Royals, the Indian u19 & u23 as well as the batting coach of the Netherlands national team.

He will be replacing Dale Benkenstein, who was not retained following the 2019 Cricket World Cup.

To the couch for Bouch

There is an old saying in Tennessee, I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, we will tolerate you until we can replace ...